It’s International Men’s Day on 19th November 2019. This is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on men’s wellbeing and the contribution they make to everyone’s lives. And integral to men’s health is the recognition that they too want greater work-life balance.
Ten2Two recently ran a poll asking whether people thought more men were looking for job flexibility than five years ago and the results were very clear. It seems that 82% of those asked, believe that men are seeking flexibility more now than in 2014. And if that’s the case, why isn’t more being done about it?
What’s more, we often talk about International Women’s Day, but it’s just as important to open up the conversation around men. Here at Ten2Two, we’ve often said that flexible part-time working won’t be taken seriously until men do it, and International Men’s Day gives us the perfect chance to focus on what men want from the world of work too. It’s time men got a break too.
Dads want flexible working too
A recent survey of new fathers by Working Dads and Working Mums, suggested that fathers are facing huge stigma in the workplace as they struggle to secure the flexible or part-time hours they need to balance their work and home lives. In fact, People Management reveals that two in five working fathers who applied for flexible working had their requests turned down.
The Fawcett Society champions flexible working for all and say that unless companies adapt to the new way of working in the digital era, more and more working dads and mums, will be alienated. And in some cases, men have felt compelled to quit their jobs once their flexible working request was turned down.
Flexibility not just for women
When we talk about flexible working, it’s often seen as a woman’s issue. But increasingly, here at our flexible and part-time recruitment agency, we are seeing greater demand for flexibility from men as well.
Deborah O’Sullivan, Managing Director at Ten2Two explains, “We recently put forward our first all-male short-list of candidates for a part-time professional role, which just wouldn’t have happened five years ago. It’s often thought that flexibility is about women, but really, it’s something that should be available to all employees.”
Managers leading by example
Although we are told that 90% of all employees would like to work more flexible hours, with men making up more than half of that figure, not every workplace culture is being quick to adapt to the demands of the modern working world.
Many companies still have a culture of presenteeism, where lip service is paid to flexibility, but the realities are very different. When managers are still sat at their desks at 8pm at night, the employee has a clear signal that leaving early isn’t really alright. If your boss is modelling the kind of behaviour that says flexible working is unacceptable, how can that sit well with the employee?
Bill Gates and shared parenting
So what is leading by example on International Men’s Day? Well, Melinda Gates documents some of the challenges facing dads and mums in her book, ‘The Moment of Lift’. She says she knew she wanted children but she also knew she wanted to go back to work. She asked her husband to start sharing the responsibility of dropping the kids at school.
Once Bill Gates did this, she soon noticed lots of other dads starting to do the same. It’s this kind of leading by example that will change men’s lives – and in turn, our children’s. But it relies on employers sitting up and taking notice, walking the talk, modelling positive behaviours and leading by example.
Shared Parental Leave – not enough?
We’re moving in the right direction in the UK, with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, but more men need to feel able to take it up without it hindering their careers long term. Goldman Sachs just announced that men and women would get the same paid leave of at least 20 weeks whether they had become parents through birth, surrogacy or adoption.
This is a great step in the right direction when it comes to giving men greater influence in their baby’s first few months of life. And it also helps mums who may have had a difficult birth and who need their partner’s help in those early weeks. This can only be a positive thing for everyone involved. Let’s hope more companies recognise the important role that dads play post birth.
But back to flexible working. For men, it’s reported that the leap towards flexibility is greater than it is for women. Lucy Tobin’s Evening Standard article explored the role of men in the workplace and fathers’ quest for greater flexibility. It’s not always as straightforward and there are claims that while women are being given flexibility, men do not feel able to ask for it in the same way.
The pressure of being the breadwinner
We hope that on International Men’s Day, more men will feel able to go forth and ask for flexible working. But we have to also look at what’s stopping them from doing so as well. Perhaps it comes from the great responsibility that has traditionally been felt by men as ‘breadwinners’.
Even though a third of UK households now have a female breadwinner, we still have a culture of “stronger male breadwinning norms in this country”. As a result, UK households where women are the main breadwinner are significantly poorer than in the US and western Europe.
This culture often means that male mental health is intrinsically linked with their jobs and professional status. It could also mean that men feel less able to ‘rock the boat’ by asking employers for flexibility or to leave early to help with the bath time routine.
Divorced and separated dads need flex
There are greater expectations on dads these days, with their partners also working long hours, both partners are taking a more equal share in parenting duties. But it also means that mums and dads are tired and stressed – and that can lead to even greater pressure on couples.
It’s something that new parents often cite as an adjustment within a relationship. The idea that they can finally hand baby over once their partner comes home. But for the other parent, this can be difficult after a stressful day in the office. Everyone needs time to decompress but this is the reality of co-parenting – it isn’t easy for dads or mums after a long day of work.
For divorced or separated dads, there are even further demands on their time, where flexibility at work is absolutely essential for them to fulfil their caring duties. If you have to pick up children every other week on a school day, for example, there’s no way you can still be sat at work at 5 o’clock if you have a long commute ahead of you. Parents simply can’t afford to be delayed where children are concerned.
The challenges in the workplace
As we’ve already mentioned, the challenges in the workplace aren’t going anywhere. When you have to work and you have to provide for a family and manage your parenting responsibilities effectively, something has to give. And this is one of the messages that International Men’s Day can hope to affect. For employers, it means examining what more can be done to support men in the workplace. With male suicide accounting for two-thirds of the suicides in the UK, it’s even more important workplaces take action now.
If you can create a positive workplace culture where employees feel supported through the good times and the bad, you will see greater productivity and less absenteeism. And that can only be a good thing for businesses. Richard Branson is a massive advocate of flexible working and believes flexible working is a win-win for companies who embrace its benefits.
The rise of underemployment?
One dad recently told us that he has decided to relax his pursuit of promotion. He took a pay cut to find a more relaxed working culture. It’s something we often see professional women doing and leads to a culture of underemployment. But the reality is, this is how some employees are finding the work-life balance they crave.
“I’m a senior employee in an advertising firm. I have worked at a Director level, but I no longer want to manage employees so I found a role that lets me do good work without having to operate at an executive senior level. It means I am not earning as much as I did in my previous role but I am happy with that. I want to work hard in the day but get home to my family without staying late or working weekends if possible. I also no longer want to socialise after work – senior roles often require that level of commitment, and that doesn’t always fit around family life.”
A positive step in the right direction
If you’re a dad seeking greater flexibility from your employer, be brave and speak up. You can find out more about requesting flexibility here. But if you feel you need a fresh challenge that gives you flexibility, make sure you register with Ten2Two today. We welcome candidates from every background.
Deborah O’Sullivan adds, “Over the last five years in particular, we have seen more and more men joining the Ten2Two community seeking flexible work. It’s often because they have caring responsibilities, kids or elderly relatives, but also we see professional men looking to reduce their working week to pursue other things in their life, maybe a new career direction or passion they’ve not had time to pursue.”
“Just last week I was in the company of two senior male professionals discussing the challenges of juggling childcare and work – a conversation that only ten years ago you just wouldn’t have heard in the workplace – so things are definitely moving in the right direction.”
To find a flexible role, please register with flexible recruitment agency Ten2Two today. Or if you’d like to find flexible employees for your business, we can help with that too. In the meantime, we wish all of our male readers, clients and candidates a very happy International Men’s Day!